Art has the power to engage and transform

The Community Arts & Heritage Education Project (CAHEP) is a multidisciplinary arts- education organization that was brought into existence as a response to a set of recommendations put forth by an Arts Education Sub-committee of the City of Thunder Bay’s Arts & Heritage Committee. The Sub-committee was charged with finding ways to improve the level of arts education in the City. To do so, Sub-committee members studied Best Practices in Arts Education in several cities in Canada and the USA, what types and kinds of arts programming existed locally, who had access to the arts and arts-education, and the gaps in programming.

From their explorations, the Sub-committee members penned several recommendations in December of 2000. Specifically, they made it clear that there needed to be:

  • more financial support for artists
  • additional venues for young artists to perform and display their talents
  • artists in Residency programs
  • increased community-based arts education programming
  • opportunities for individual artist to form partnerships with the private sector

Under the guidance of a Steering Committee, with Dr. Fiona Blaikie from the Faculty of Education, Lakehead University serving as its Chair, CAHEP started in 2001 as a pilot project with Ontario Trillium Foundation (OTF) funding. Dr. Blaikie coined CAHEP’s name so as to show that “it was a community project, that it was educational, that it covered all the arts, and that it was about our arts and about our heritage in the Thunder Bay community.”

She was also responsible, in collaboration with representatives from the Thunder Bay Art Gallery, Magnus Theatre, the Thunder Bay Symphony Orchestra, and the three local school boards for writing, applying for, and successfully securing CAHEP’s first OTF grant and for hiring Lila Cano, CAHEP’s first Executive Director. That hiring would set CAHEP on a solid footing for years to come for the organization would not be where it currently is without Lila’s effort, creative energy, and care for participant well being.

Today, as was the case 15 years ago, CAHEP is governed by a volunteer Board of Directors who give their time freely to, are fiercely committee to, and, infuse their own creative passions into, the organization. They make sure that CAHEP’s mandate and vision is in place and efficiently and effectively followed; and, they ensure that the financial, operational, legal, constitutional, and regulatory requirements attached to running an incorporated, not-for-profit organization with charitable status are adhered to. Last but not least, 100s of artists have had a strong hand in the making of CAHEP. They will continue to be the on-the-ground ambassadors for arts-education and their dedication, hard work, and compassion will lead CAHEP into the future for many, many years yet to come.

We look forward to creating arts-based programming with all the citizens of Thunder Bay for another 15 years. For what is clear about CAHEP is that is has a momentum that is unstoppable –one that, as Dr. Blaikie points out, illuminates “a passion and a commitment among people in the Thunder Bay community to not just support CAHEP and keep it going, but to have it grow and to build it, and to keep that sort of vision alive of reaching out to the community.” And, such a passion is necessary for us to all realize that the arts not only “enhance the quality of life but that they are “highly important because of their power to engage and to transform.”